Best saloons 2023
A great supersaloon can be just as much fun to drive as any supercar, and just as fast, too
It’s impossible not to see the appeal of a sports or supersaloon. They combine the practicality, usability and in most cases ubiquity of a family car with the engaging handling and firecracker powertrains of much more interesting machines.
This makes the high-performance saloon (or long-tail hatchback in a few cases) deeply desirable, and in many cases they represent the ultimate everyday car. There are many different characters that fall within this bracket, from the compact and athletic Alfa Romeo Giulia to all-wheel-drive hot-rods that will comfortably overcome some high-end supercars at a drag strip or on track.
At the very extremity exists cars like the Jaguar XE SV Project 8 and Alfa Romeo Giulia GTAm - stripped out, caged up models that use their saloon chassis as a delivery method for their extreme capability on road and track. Yet these ultimate four-doors were brief glimmers of brilliance in the car market, so here we’ll focus on less specialised saloons.
Even better, despite the challenges facing traditional high-performance cars in 2023, the sports and supersaloon still has an immediate future thanks to electrification. This means that this list will likely look very different in 12 months' time as hybrid and electric powertrains lift the saloon to new heights of performance.
For now, only one EV has been included on our list, but with stalwarts like the M5, E63 AMG and RS7 going hybrid in their next iterations, plus a range of exciting new EVs from Lucid and Tesla, we’re about to undergo a massive transformation in the sports saloon space. For now though, pure ICE still reigns, powering a range of superb high-performance four doors that are better now than ever.
Best sports saloons 2023
- Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio
- BMW M3 CS
- Mercedes-AMG E63 S
- Porsche Panamera GTS
- Jaguar XE P300
- BMW M5 CS
- Porsche Taycan GTS
- Peugeot 508 PSE
- BMW M340i
- Alfa Romeo Giulia
Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio
The Giulia Quadrifoglio has long been a firm evo favourite, and Alfa Romeo has continuously developed it since its launch in 2016 to cement it as a brilliant supersaloon. We haven't driven the facelifted 2023 model in the UK yet, but with extra power, a recalibrated chassis and a new mechanical limited-slip differential, it could be the best yet.
At the heart of the Quadrifoglio lies a superb 90-degree twin-turbo 2.9-litre V6 that kicks out 513bhp. It’s mated to an eight-speed auto that’s controlled by a pair of flamboyantly large aluminium paddles, driving the rear wheels alone via a carbonfibre prop shaft. The body is equally exotic, featuring a lightweight mix of carbon and aluminium panels wrapped around telephone-dial wheels, sophisticated double wishbone suspension and multi-way adaptive dampers. Oh, and did we mention it was developed by the same man that brought us the Ferrari 458 Speciale?
On the move the Alfa’s Ferrari DNA isn’t hard to spot. The big giveaways are the wrist-flick quick steering and surprisingly supple ride. Yet it’s the car’s poise, balance and grip when really pushing on that leaves the deepest impression – this is a tremendously fast and accomplished machine that’s more engaging than almost anything else with four doors.
Sure, the optional carbon-ceramic brakes lack manners at low speed and the engine doesn't sound particularly musical (although it endows the Quadrifoglio with a brutal turn of speed), but these niggles don’t detract from what is a sublime saloon.
BMW M3 CS
If you were to tell a die-hard BMW M fan 20 years ago that the BMW M3 was now a turbocharged, all-wheel-drive saloon with a weight figure banging on the door of 1.8 tons, they might not have believed you. But as BMW M has proven time and time again, its ability to create brilliant performance cars through new generations of powertrain and chassis technology has meant the latest M3 is one of it's finest. It comes as no surprise, then, that the CS version is one of the best saloons on the planet.
With dialed up focus, power and capability, BMW's recent CS models have been truly world class, with the previous-gen M2 CS and the M5 CS both taking top honours at evo's Car of the Year mega tests. The M3 CS is another masterpiece, with fastidious attention to detail and engineering changes applied throughout the chassis, drivetrain and control surfaces. Recalibrated suspension, carbon panels, new engine mounts and an intricate aluminium front cross brace are just some of the mechanical upgrades, and BMW has fine-tuned the M3 CS's geometry and setup to take full advantage of them.
The headline figures from the twin-turbocharged straight six are 542bhp and 479lb ft of torque, and though it pulls with real vigour, the engine isn't the star of the show. Instead, it's the crisp steering, communicative chassis and deep well of composure that define the M3 CS, and make it truly indulgent at any speed.
It's a stark turnoaround from the M4 CSL, which promised to deliver the ultimate hit of adrenaline possible from this package but in the end felt disjointed and frustrating at times. The M3 CS is different; its performance is accesible and richly rewarding to tap into, and it's further proof that the CS badge is reserved for the very best BMW has to offer. We'll find out whether it has another world-beater on its hands at eCoty this year.
Mercedes-AMG E63 S
The Mercedes-AMG E63 S is still just about on sale in the UK, but even after nearly six years it still hits with an incredible bite, and not just from its brilliant 604bhp M177 V8 engine. In 2021, AMG updated the E63 alongside the rest of the E-class range, introducing the usual range of subtle styling and technology updates that one would expect. Yet much more was done under the skin than initially meets the eye because the E63 fundamentally expanded its personality to become a more rounded supersaloon.
Significant changes to the adaptive air suspension and variable dampers have made the E63 ride more calmly in its demure settings, dramatically improving refinement at low speeds. Another big change came in the E63’s exhaust as it comes with a new particulate filter that significantly changes the V8’s voice, and not for the better. Through throttled valves and speaker enhancement, the V8 just doesn’t have the charisma of its predecessor, but then this is a problem now affecting all its key rivals.
Turn the right switches and press the right buttons and the updated E63 S is still just as bombastic as the original, even if the engine is a little less vocal. Like many AMG products, it’s the engine that dominates the E63’s driving experience, with the twin-turbo V8 delivering huge performance. Yet the AMG is far from being a one-dimensional driving device and as you scratch beneath the surface you’ll find deep reserves of talent and ability.
As has now been mimicked across the supersaloon domain, the E63’s 4MATIC all-wheel-drive system is something it continues to use to great effect today. Like many of its contemporaries, it features a hooligan ‘Drift Mode’, which disconnects the front axle and allows you to vaporise a set of Michelins on the rear axle in minutes. The AMG manages to combine the feel and balance of a rear-driver with stupendous traction when the going gets slippery. And, of course, there’s something laugh-out-loud hilarious about a car as refined and spacious as the big Benz that’ll also rattle off the sprint to 62mph in 3.4sec.
Porsche Panamera GTS
Is the Porsche a high-performance four-door coupe, a supersaloon or a luxurious limousine with an outrageous turn of speed? Regardless of how you view it, there’s no denying the Panamera GTS is a deeply impressive piece of kit. Despite its size and weight it still goes and handles with the alacrity you’d expect from a car bearing the Porsche badge.
Like the BMW M5 and Mercedes-AMG E63, the Panamera is powered by a twin-turbocharged V8, but in the GTS produces a somewhat more restrained 473bhp. Happy to leave the headline power, torque and performance figures to the more expensive and complex Panamera Turbo S, the GTS instead focuses on the driving experience, which suits us just fine. Even so, it's still good for 0-62mph in 3.9sec and will merrily haul the Porsche along at 186mph.
The relatively modest outputs yield another advantage, as the GTS doesn’t just appeal by the ease with which its performance is generated, but also its ability to keep your foot planted just that little bit longer so as to enjoy the V8’s performance without piling on excessive speed. The inherent refinement and capability of a supersaloon makes it all too easy to break into some quite substantial numbers, and the subsequent need to slow down such a heavy machine.
So many modern supersaloons are not just fast, they’re a little too fast to really enjoy on the public road. But the GTS’s lesser power figure doesn’t mean it feels underpowered. And it has all the character of its rivals, and compared to the Turbo S, relative simplicity, too.
BMW M5 CS
The BMW M5 is the evergreen entrant in this class, and one that has long defined the term supersaloon. While the lead it originally held over rivals has eroded over the years, the F90-generation M5 CS catapulted into a new realm of supersaloon performance and interaction when it launched in 2021. Put simply, it's an all-time great.
With most supersaloons now featuring twin-turbocharged V8 engines, all-wheel drive and eight-speed automatic transmissions, there's convergence at the top of the class – but there’s something different about the M5 CS’s character. Delve into its dynamic repertoire and you’ll find that BMW has transformed what was already a fantastic supersaloon into a truly great one.
With revised suspension geometry, new bushes, a lower ride height and adaptive dampers from the M8 Gran Coupe, the M5 CS delivers a calm, controlled assault on the road and your senses. It steers with fantastic precision and tucks into corners like a much smaller car, while lapping up bumpy roads more deftly than an M5 Competition. Switch the all-wheel-drive system to its more heavily rear-biased, or indeed full rear-wheel-drive modes, and the car doesn’t lose any composure. Instead, you simply indulge in the traction and adjustability that the electronically controlled locking rear differential is able to generate.
It’s also supremely fast, with the CS's uprated 626bhp V8 working with the four-wheel drive system to provide relentless, near-immediate shove. The torque converter gearbox isn't rapid-fire quick like the best DCTs, but it keeps up with the rest of the package while providing smooth, seamless shifts at normal speeds.
Jaguar XE P300
Remember the Jaguar XE? We nearly didn’t, but the compact executive saloon from Jaguar still has plenty of appeal as it remains just about the sharpest car in its class to drive. As of 2023 the most potent powertrain available is the 300 Sport’s 296bhp turbocharged 2-litre Ingenium 4 unit that, although effective reaching 62mph in 5.9sec, isn’t particularly sparkling in its performance or responsiveness. Gladly, the same can’t be said for its chassis, which is as balanced and capable as ever, with accurate steering and solid body control.
There’s finesse to the way all XEs have been set up, both in rear- and all-wheel-drive forms, the latter feeling just like the systems in rival BMWs that support with added traction, rather than overwhelming the chassis with too much front-axle drive.
Wrapping this sweet chassis is the same ageing, albeit still very attractive, body, which thanks to a major update in 2018 looks as sleek as the day it was launched. The story isn’t quite so peachy inside, as while the infotainment tech is passable, the cabin design hasn't aged particularly well. It also seems to have less space inside than a modern mid-sized hatchback.
But there is an advantage to this somewhat old-fashioned sports saloon, and that’s an old fashioned price. As cars across the spectrum rise faster than almost everything around them, the Jaguar XE 300 Sport is priced from just £43,500. Being the top-specification variant, it’s also stacked with kit including leather heated and electric seats, 20-inch wheels, a high-end Meridian stereo and more. It’s worth remembering that a Volkswagen Golf R costs £670 more.
Porsche Taycan GTS
The sole EV in our list is the brilliant Porsche Taycan GTS, a supersaloon that’s not just good for an EV, but a brilliant car, full stop. Like the Panamera also in this list, honours go to the mid-range GTS, which finds the best compromise in outright performance for the sake of a more dynamically pure chassis.
The GTS was a late introduction to the range in 2021, bringing with it a significant software upgrade that was rolled out across most other Taycan models, too. As well as the ability to decouple the front motor (for efficiency, rather than tail-out antics, unfortunately), it also streamlines many of the electrical processes, improving response, efficiency and feedback. It’s also worth noting that if a 0-62mph time of 3.7sec isn’t quick enough for you, there might be issues regarding your adrenalin management.
What really makes the GTS our pick, though, is the way it drives. It, like the Panamera, does without the active anti-roll system and rear-wheel steering, instead leaving the standard air springs and adaptive dampers to manage the not inconsiderable 2295kg weight figure. Yet despite all the mass, its ability to scythe through corners with almost as much composure as a near 750kg lighter 911 is uncanny.
Even better, thanks to control weights and a front suspension set-up that owes much to Porsche’s sports cars, the Taycan GTS feels brilliant on the road, with pin-sharp steering, exceptional body control and depth of feel in the chassis making the most of its 590bhp and 627lb ft of torque. Its range isn’t even too bad, although you’ll need to know your next charging point to openly drive the GTS to its full potential to avoid emptying the battery.
Peugeot 508 PSE
Peugeot might not be a persistent player in the sports saloon sector, but the 508 PSE is evidence that it can mix it with the best in class. Benchmarked against the Volkswagen Arteon R and BMW's M340i xDrive, the Peugeot delivers a unique and deftly tuned driving experience that does justice to its distinctive looks.
The 1.6-litre turbocharged four-pot is by no means as glamorous as a BMW straight-six, but combined with a front electric motor and another at the rear, it provides an effortless turn of speed. Generating a total of 355bhp and 384lb ft of torque, the 508 PSE sprints from 0-62mph in just 5.2sec, provided you've remembered to charge up its hybrid battery pack.
Along a bumpy, twisting back road, the Peugeot finds a rhythm that's typical of the best French performance cars. Its blend of control and compliance is genuinely impressive, and while Peugeot persists with its awkward i-Cockpit interior and tiny steering wheel, the 508's responses are pleasingly linear and precise.
It's not a car for flamboyant slides and ultra-committed driving, but the 508 PSE emanates with dynamic quality and sophistication at all speeds. Peugeot's Sport Engineered department has seemingly appeared out of nowhere, but it's delivered the goods at the first time of asking.
Perhaps the biggest triumph of BMW’s M Performance range is its M340i and M340d twins - two sports saloons that are truly brilliant, finding a superb balance between outright performance and efficiency and handling composure and comfort like few others. We’ll discount the diesel in this list as while it is an impressively torquey and efficient car, the M340i is itself very good on fuel and considerably sharper to drive.
The M340i still draws on that fine balance that the 3-series has exploited over many of its formative years. The newest version pairs silky six-cylinder engines with a similar non-intrusive all-wheel-drive system to that fitted to the M3 xDrive also on this list, but does without its show-stopping rear-wheel-drive mode. To make best use of its impressive powertrains, the BMW M340i has a chassis to match, at once involving and precise, but still brilliantly capable and comfortable over any stretch of road.
In late 2022, the 3-series also picked up a big update, not only giving the exterior a slight refresh with new lights and bumpers, but also redesigning the interior to feature BMW’s impressive (and vast) new dual-screen setup from the i4. A completely reprofiled dash has also come with it, and despite losing some physical controls, it's just about passable in the ergonomic sense on account of the vast digital real estate.
That aside, the BMW M340i is on this list as it might just represent the perfect modern car, balanced between comfort, dynamics, desirability and usability like few others. And if 10mpg or so is going to make a significant difference to your monthly outgoings, there’s always the diesel.
Alfa Romeo Giulia
Alfa has done little to change the Giulia's fundamentals over its seven year lifespan, which is testament to how well judged the original package was in 2016. Now, with smart new headlights, a revised interior and improved tech, it's better than ever, and it continues to offer its own dynamic flavour from behind the wheel.
The standard Giulia is now exclusively available in 276bhp turbocharged four-cylinder form, and while the engine bears little resemblance to the rorty, sonorous Alfa four-pots of old, it delivers a level of performance that feels in harmony with the Giulia's compliant, light-footed chassis.
Unlike the Quadrifoglio, you won't find yourself pulling smokey powerslides in a standard Giulia, but there's still an inherent adjustability that's missing in most rivals. Where other stiffer sports saloons feel flat footed, the Giulia feels fluid and malleable when approaching the limit, communicating the loads going through the car and responding to fine tweaks to the throttle. In many ways, the Giulia feels like the Alpine A110 of sports saloons.
There are some drawbacks though, primarily in terms of the cabin; it wasn't quite on the pace when new, and the likes of BMW and Mercedes have taken significant steps in quality and tech since. Even so, the 2023 facelift brought a slick digital dial pack for a more modern feel, and the tech is at least relatively user friendly. We'll never tire of those enormous aluminium paddle shifters, either.